Superintendent's Message, 5.13.20

Reflections as a Superintendent and a Parent

Much of what we do in District 96 is done collaboratively with Stevenson and the area feeder elementary districts. In early March we knew that we would have some decisions to make if the pandemic continued to escalate quickly. Trying to stay “ahead of the curve” and diligent when it came to health and safety, we announced our initial closing days before the governor's mandate. Little did we know that our new reality would stretch way beyond those first few weeks. And as time went on, it became clearer that we could be closed for more than a couple of weeks. 

Now we find ourselves considering multiple scenarios continuing into the summer and fall. Compounding the stress of the pandemic and forecasts of it extending well into next year is the prospect that the economic fallout might be even longer and more far reaching. We are in a period of extraordinary uncertainty and we are all coping with this in different ways. Some of us need to maintain as much normalcy as possible, and others need to pull back.
As you would expect, I have received many emails from parents since District schools closed. Their messages range from “You need to increase drastically the work you are giving students!” to “It’s overwhelming!  My kids are stressed and I’m stressed!  It’s too much work!” and from “Why can’t teachers be on Zoom for 4 hours a day with kids?” to “Thank you for developing an engaged, well-balanced plan emphasizing connection and not relying solely on Zoom!” I began to feel like the only common thread in parents’ reactions was an exclamation point at the end!  

When asked how we developed our learning plans, my answer is that we designed them to work as best as they can for all of our families experiencing different life circumstances and for our students experiencing the same. We want to provide enough engaging activities and content that our students who are able to go deeper and experience new learning during the closure can do so, but not create insurmountable learning divides for large segments of our population. We adjusted the plan as the length of the closure became apparent.

We have lost control over so many aspects of our lives, and one of the major constants for all of us (students, parents, teachers) with school age children is... school. We are desperately trying to reclaim some sense of control. The focus and routine can be helpful–at least some of the time, anyway.

No question, not being able to be present physically with people is a challenge for humans. I believe we’d all agree that email, chats, and Zoom meetings don’t replace in-person human interaction. They also won’t replace what is fundamental to schooling–the connection between teachers and students centered on nurturing and inspiring relationships. 

As a parent, I know we must take care of ourselves, so we can take care of our children. Caring for them means that we watch them closely and understand their limits, as well, during this unprecedented time. Remote learning works well for many kids–and not well at all for others.  Likewise, kids are emotional like we are... what works one time may not the next. Only you know the right balance for your family, so do what is right for your own situation.
Finally, I deeply believe that our staff are among the most talented and dedicated educators, so let’s be gracious about recognizing their needs, as well. It takes a lot of time and ongoing development to become good at teaching. Our faculty have been thrust into an entirely new teaching environment that was unfathomable six months ago. They continue to be champions for kids….not only their own, but also yours.  

Be assured, our students will weather this. We will develop plans to reinforce the most important aspects of the spring content in the fall. We continue to collaborate with our area colleagues to generate ideas for improvements and solutions. We are all in the same boat. We will move forward together.

Please review the important information below!

Kindergarten Registration

If your child will be 5 years old by September 1, PLEASE register him or her promptly for kindergarten. While some families may be unsure of their plans and what school opening may look like in August due to the pandemic, we still ask that you register. Including your student’s registration in our numbers is the only way for us to finalize our staffing plan and ensure that we have the teaching staff we need! This also helps to manage class sizes in the fall. If you know other families who have kindergarten-age students not yet registered, please share this information with them, as well. In addition, we encourage you to express any interest you may have in your child being a part of the dual language program in kindergarten by submitting an Interest Form by May 15, found on this webpage. Please direct any questions to either Willow Grove Principal Jenny Smith at [email protected] or Public Info Coordinator Betsy Fresen at [email protected].

Expanded Virtual Summer Opportunities

We are excited to offer some expanded virtual summer learning options! These options include the types of sessions that were offered in the past and sessions focused on target review in literacy and math, extension, and STEAM! At their meeting last evening, the Board approved offering these opportunities free of charge for our students. Please watch for a detailed message coming later today (5-13) on how to sign up for these June virtual learning options!

Student iPads

Due to both our expanded virtual options for June and our intention to share suggestions and resources for continued learning with families over the summer, ALL RETURNING DISTRICT 96 STUDENTS WILL KEEP THEIR IPADS DURING THE SUMMER. We are pleased to be able to offer families and our students ongoing access to this resource. Please remind kids to continue to take care of these iPads. They will need them in the fall! 

Food Donations

We thank you sincerely for your continued support of our food distribution efforts! Families impacted financially by the pandemic are receiving supplies and food they need, due to your generosity! 

We are in need of additional items at this time and now have coolers for safe storage.

Please place items in collection boxes for this purpose located at the FRONT of the ELC at 990 Corporate Woods Pkwy, Vernon Hills. Please observe social distancing when delivering your donated items.

We are currently requesting:
Macaroni & cheese meals (cups or boxes)
Canned vegetables
Canned beans
Canned fruit/Fruit cups
Hamburger Helper-type boxed meals
Canned tuna
Canned chicken
Granola bars
Shredded cheese
Sliced cheese
Hot dogs
Ground beef (prefer frozen)
Chicken (prefer frozen) can be bags or wrapped
Deli meats

Student Materials Pick-Up

Specific dates, times, and safe processes for student materials pick-up have been identified. Please find this information in your school Principal’s Message and read ALL details carefully. The dates of each pick-up follow.

• Elementary Student Materials Pick-Up (Willow Grove–Grade 5) will take place: 
Wednesday May 20 
Thursday, May 21 
Friday, May 22

• Grades 6 and 7 Middle School Student Materials Pick-Up will take place:
Tuesday, May 26
Wednesday, May 27

• 8th-Grade Student Materials Pick-Up, Drop-Off, and Diploma Distribution will take place:
Thursday, May 28

8th-Grade Send-Off will take place:
Friday, May 29

At this time last year, I could not have imagined our current circumstances, of course, and the challenges we’d be facing. May is the traditional time for celebrating our students’ growth and for eagerly anticipating what their future holds. I’m so grateful to the families, faculty, and staff who are pouring their skills and creativity into ensuring that, despite this pandemic, May 2020 will continue to be a time we will honor hard work and give fond farewells. Later this month we will celebrate our Twin Groves and Woodlawn Class of 2020 and we will recognize our staff and our retiring faculty virtually. And because I’m an optimist, I’m looking on the bright side when considering that–for these celebrations–there will be no uncomfortable shoes, no hectic rush to arrive on time, no crowded parking lot hassles, and every seat will be a great seat from which to enjoy the celebration!

Best wishes,
Julie Schmidt, District 96 Superintendent of Schools